A Stitch in Time: The Baroque Bodice

Think that the bare shoulder top is a modern concept from our society’s increasingly casual style of dress?  Maybe it really took off during the 80’s following that Flashdance over-sized sweatshirt look with the neck cut so wide it barely stays on as a shirt?  Well, travel back in fashion history to the 1600s when the Baroque woman bared all sorts of décolletage in daily dress.


This portrait entitled “Woman Playing a Viola de Gamba” from wikipaintings done by Gabriel Metsu in 1663 shows a young lady in a standard Baroque gown showing full shoulders, flat front, deep pointed bodice, gathers around side and back skirt and low, full sleeves.

In addition to the allure of exposed skin the off-the-shoulder bodice provided male counterparts, it restricted the woman’s movements.  A stiff corset of the same silhouette was worn under the bodice, and the band that wrapped around the shoulder at the neckline meant the wearer could not lift her arms much above waist-level.  In addition, the sleeves were set far back to it was also virtually impossible to bring the arms forward.  So in all the loveliness of an off-the-shoulder presentation, the female was bound in her natural mannerisms leaving her feeble and restricted in activity.  Even the simple task of eating meant leaning forward with a small, dainty movement of the wrist to carefully place delicate morsels of food into the mouth.

The image below is a replica of a corset popular in the 1600s, crafted by myself, although this uncomfortable device is wider in the waist than it would have been back in the day.  Imagine the bands above the armhole wrapping around your upper arms, the long front rendering a bend at the waist a certain challenge, and note that an authentic copy would take about 6″ off the wearer’s waistline.

Baroque Corset

And with the gown on top…

Baroque dress


Baroque dress back


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